By Christina M Wilson. Published under a different title at: Evangelistic Switchbacks: Isaiah 26-Journal 55 – justonesmallvoice.com
Evangelistic Switchbacks and Spiritual Warfare-Isaiah 26
Evangelistic switchbacks alternate between the benefits of belief and the condemnation of resistance. First and foremost, God through his Holy Spirit wrote a strong evangelistic appeal in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). That is why in both the Psalter and Isaiah the reader does not get too far into blessings for the faithful without encountering condemnation for God’s enemies. The divine author, God, embeds in these frequent contrasts his evangelistic appeal: Leave the one and join the other. Your very life is at stake. Isaiah 26 provides a great example of the evangelistic nature of the Bible.
The Opening Salvo
In the first six verses, Isaiah 26:1-6, the prophet provides a succinct overview of the outcome of all things. On the one hand, those who hope in the Lord forever will live securely and peacefully in the Lord’s strong city. He constructed the city, and he protects it with walls of salvation. On the other hand, God will bring down those who live in their “lofty” pride. He will place them beneath the feet of the gentle and humble. Those who once trampled others will themselves be trampled upon.
God’s heart, however, is open. He wants to bless everyone who chooses his blessing.
Open the gates… Isaiah 26:2
A Second Round
Isaiah then alternates back from describing the outcome for those who deny God (vs 6) to the outcome for his hopeful ones (vs 7). Here then is the second round of blessing.
Isaiah 26:7 The way of the godly is made straight; the way of the godly is also prepared. 8 For the way of the Lord is judgment; we have hoped in Your name, and on the remembrance of You, 9 which our soul longs for; my spirit seeks You very early in the morning, O God, for Your commandments are a light on the earth; learn righteousness, you that dwell upon the earth. (CAB, LXE)
MESSIANIC DETAILS TO NOTICE
1. The author uses the phrase, “the way,” three times in two verses. The first two are, “the way of the godly.” The third is, “the way of the Lord.” The verses read, “The way of the godly is made straight.” “The way of the godly is also prepared.” “For the way of the Lord is judgment.”
Isaiah means here that it is good to follow “the way” of the Lord–his judgments, commandments, and precepts. The whole paragraph is a comfort, whose setting is the intimacy of prayer with a loving God who brings light to humankind’s understanding through his words and teaching.
2. Notice the change from plural “we” in verse 8 to singular “my” in verse 9. “My spirit seeks you very early in the morning, O God.” It is possible that the Lord himself is praying this prayer from the prophetic vantage of his incarnation. This verse rings with similarity to Mark 1:35, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
4. Jesus refers to himself as “the way” in John 14:6. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The book of Acts in several places refers to early Christians as followers of “the way.” Use of “Way” as an early name of Christianity is common in Acts. For example, Acts 19:23 states, “About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.”
5. The often repeated communion formula, “This, do in remembrance of me,” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25) carries an echo of Isaiah’s sentence which reads, “We have hoped in Your name, and on the remembrance of You, which our soul longs for…” (Isaiah 26:8-9).
6. That Jesus is the “light” of God is a major theme of John the Apostle, both in his gospel and his first letter.
Verses 7-9 comfort the godly by the blessed communion with God through meditation and remembrance of his way, his judgments (precepts and discipline), his light, and indeed his presence. Verse 10 switches back to the contrasting end of the “ungodly.”
Isaiah 26:10 For the ungodly one is put down; no one who will not learn righteousness on the earth, shall be able to do the truth; let the ungodly be taken away, that he may not see the glory of the Lord. (CAB, LXE)
The following verse presents an enigma. Who are “they”? (Isaiah 26:11). The connotation is negative, for when the Lord “exalted” his arm, “they knew it not.” Who are the people most blind, who failed to know the Lord when he came? Paul writes, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). If “they” are God’s Old Testament people, then the “untaught” are the Gentiles who became zealous for the blessings. Paul writes, “… whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).
Isaiah may hint and whisper at the gospel and its adverse reception by God’s people here in chapter 26. In later chapters, however, he spells out his meaning boldly and clearly. See, for example, Isaiah 65:1 and Romans 10:20. What is loud and clear in chapter 26, however, is that the prophet describes two camps of people with two very different outcomes. Isaiah 26:11 closes with, “… and now fire shall devour the adversaries.”
The Rounds Continue
Verses 12 and 13 present another direct prayer.
12 O Lord our God, give us peace, for You have rendered to us all things. 13 O Lord our God, take possession of us; O Lord, we know not any other beside You; we name Your name.
This prayer of confession (in the sense of personal testimony) suits the remnant, rather than the nation of Israel as a whole. The nation remains apostate throughout Isaiah, while the remnant clings to God. The prayer evidences the passionate pleading of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
The switchback to the evil “they” occurs in Isaiah 26:14-15. The Septuagint text (LXX) reads differently than the Masoretic in verses 13-15. (Find both texts HERE in parallel versions.) While verse 13 in the LXX confesses the abiding trust of the Lord’s faithful, the Masoretic indicates the various foreign powers or gods who have dominated them in their history. However, Judah to this point in their history has remained independent of foreign “lords.” Further, their heart has not remained faithful to their one, true God. That is Isaiah’s precise point, as he attempts again and again to call them back.
The Masoretic verses from 13-15 require a virtuous (repentant) Israel as a nation, which does not exist in Isaiah, nor in the Gospels nor Acts. The Septuagint, however, in these same three verses, represents a faithful remnant. The Masoretic requires a “but” (other lords than you dominated us, but…). The Septuagint flows smoothly without abrupt contrasts. Both versions, however, indicate that the evil will be punished. The “glorious of the earth” in the Septuagint are the lofty, prideful of heart. They live in the “strong cities” of verse 5 and are the “ungodly” of verse 10.
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Another switchback from the ungodly of verses 14-15 to the faithful godly occurs in verse 16. The section beginning there continues as a prayer of direct address to the Lord in verses 16-19 of the Septuagint.
Isaiah 26:16 Lord, in affliction I remembered You; Your chastening was to us with small affliction. 17 And as a woman in labor draws near to be delivered, and cries out in her pain; so have we been to Your beloved. 18 We have conceived, O Lord, because of Your fear, and have been in pain, and have brought forth the breath of Your salvation, which we have wrought upon the earth; we shall not fall, but all that dwell upon the land shall fall. 19 The dead shall rise, and they that are in the tombs shall be raised, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice; for the dew from You is healing to them; but the land of the ungodly shall perish.19 The dead shall rise, and they that are in the tombs shall be raised, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice; for the dew from You is healing to them; but the land of the ungodly shall perish.
The gospel accounts of the faithful few who welcomed Jesus’s birth can help the reader understand the faithful remnant represented here in the Septuagint. The prayers and exclamations of Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah resemble this four verse prayer in Isaiah. The devotion and hunger for the Lord’s salvation are the same in each. Simeon and Anna, both present in the temple when Jesus’s parents brought him to be dedicated (Luke 2:22-38) are further examples of the kind of people who pray the prayer in Isaiah 26:16-19, Septuagint.
The difference between the Septuagint and the Masoretic begins in verse 16. The Septuagint begins the prayer in first person. The speaker acknowledges the chastening of the Lord upon them. The prayer is intimate, personal. This is not so in the Masoretic account. The Septuagint, however, draws the beautiful point that the supplicant is mother of the Lord’s “beloved.” The “beloved” is the Christ (Matthew 3:17; Revelation 12:1-2, 5). This prayer of God’s faithful remnant reveals a most beautiful love between them and the Messiah to whom they gave birth.
Both the Septuagint and the Masoretic represent the pain of childbirth in verse 17 similarly. But verse 18, is very different.
Masoretic: We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen. (Isaiah 26:18 ESV)
Septuagint: We have conceived, O Lord, because of Your fear, and have been in pain, and have brought forth the breath of Your salvation, which we have wrought upon the earth; we shall not fall, but all that dwell upon the land shall fall. (CAB, LXE)
An Exciting Verse in the Septuagint !!
In Masoretic Isaiah 26:18, all is “wind.” Wind in that version represents futility, vanity, emptiness, a frustration to the purpose of childbearing. It is also very difficult to visualize concretely. Further, in the Masoretic, Israel has not wrought deliverance, nor have the wicked been deposed (“Neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen”). Or, as other translations state, they have not come to life. But in the Septuagint version, the word “wind” is translated to mean “spirit” or “breath.” “We have brought forth the breath [spirit] of Your salvation.”
In other words, the remnant, in spite of all the affliction that came their way, succeeded in fulfilling the mission God had given them. They did give birth to Messiah. The faithful remnant achieved what God intended from the beginning. The purpose of all those genealogies had been fulfilled. The woman of Revelation 12:1-6 gave birth!
The Victory Cry
Verse 19 in the Masoretic presents a shocking jolt from the sense of verse 18 in those texts. The jump is so huge that explanation of it falters. The Septuagint flows smoothly, however. Verse 19 raises a cry of victory based upon the successful birth of verse 18.
19 The dead shall rise, and they that are in the tombs shall be raised, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice; for the dew from You is healing to them… (CAB, LXE)
Simply put, the Septuagint prophesies Messiah’s birth in 26:18 and shouts out the gloriously wonderful outcome in verse 19. The Masoretic shares the joy of verse 19, but misses the prequel, the preparatory buildup of verse 18.
Following these magnificent blessings, Isaiah switches back to a pronouncement of doom upon the ungodly. It is very short, occupying only the latter clause of verse 19.
19 …but the land of the ungodly shall perish. (CAB, LXE)
Unfortunately, the Masoretic texts miss this contrast.
SWITCHBACK: THE LORD REPLIES WITH ENCOURAGEMENT
Following the brief but poignant outcome for the “land of the ungodly” in the last clause of verse 19, verses 20-21 close the chapter with the Lord’s reply to his faithful remnant’s prayer in the prior verses.
Isaiah 26:20 provides the outcome for the faithful people. The Lord bids them to shelter with patient endurance for a little while longer.
19… but the land of the ungodly shall perish. 20 Go, my people, enter into your closets, shut your door, hide yourself for a little season, until the anger of the Lord has passed away.
Revelation 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (ESV)
SWITCHBACK: FINAL OUTCOME FOR THE UNGODLY
21 For behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from His holy place on those that dwell upon the earth; the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall not cover her slain. (CAB, LXE)
A DETAIL, YET IMPORTANT: Notice how the outcome of verse 21 in the Septuagint corresponds in parallel with the outcome of verse 18. In verse 18, Isaiah writes, “we shall not fall, but all that dwell upon the land shall fall.” Here in verses 20-21, the outcomes are the same. God’s godly ones will hide under his protection (verses 18 and 20), and the stubbornly ungodly will fall (verses 19 and 21). Because of the different text of Masoretic Isaiah 26:18-19, that textual tradition loses the internal correspondence contained in the Septuagint.
A Summary Chart of Isaiah 26 Septuagint
A Reader’s Personal Response
As a reader, I find that there is no such thing as reading quickly through Isaiah. (This is also true of most non-narrative Scripture.) It seems that the slower one reads, the more treasure she uncovers. On the other hand, even a fast reading of Isaiah reveals the main themes of blessing for the repentant faithful in Christ, Messiah, and condemnation for the unfaithful, those who rebel against God’s word. Chapter 26 excels in its illustration of these contrasting themes.
A Look Ahead
Chapter 27 opens with a new section beginning once again with the phrase, “In that day.” Chapter 27 sums up the outcome for Satan himself.